Re: SPACE: Economic Role for Manned Space Stations

David Blenkinsop (
Tue, 20 Jul 1999 22:46:01 -0600

Chris Fedeli wrote:
> Greg Burch wrote,
[referring to possible use of the currently planned station for satellite construction and/or repair]:
> >Is this latter mission for ISS really viable in
> >the time before, say, 2025 or so? I know
> >there's been quite a bit of talk lately about
> >"space tourism", but I'm skeptical of this as
> >a viable economic development within the next
> >25 years (after a fairly advanced nanotechnology
> >is developed, yes).
> I think you hit the nail on the head. I'm 25, and most of
> my generation seems to share little enthusiasm for space
> travel. I think part of this comes from the increased
> knowledge we have about our universe today. 30 years ago
> many people still thought there might be intelligent life on
> mars. Now we've used our telescopes to explore the deep
> reaches of space and have found it to be incredibly vast
> . . . boring.

Well, sure, says I, but if it's true that there are no ET's and no earth like environments naturally occurring anywhere nearby, then isn't that all the *more* reason to develop the technology to go out and make some expanding use of all that room and material? Would it really improve things if there were lots of natural biospheres nice and close, so we could go out and trash them? Maybe this is an overly logical point, or something, but as a long time space development enthusiast myself, I just *can't* see this as a true, or complete, reason for any perceived lack of interest in outer space prospects! What is more compelling, I think, is that all people, myself included, often tend to discount anything that just seems *impractical* to do, at the moment. If it is enormously expensive to go out there and enormously expensive to build a livable home when you get there, *that's* pretty impractical, an economic basis for rational disinterest, in other words.

In addition to the possibility of successful space habitats, it's also worth noting that if our space neighborhood is perhaps not so *biologically* interesting, at least compared to the Earth, there are surely lot's of *other* scientific areas of interest? In essence, we've got lots of things to study in space, including maybe some sort of life discovery someday, plus we've got the opportunity to take life and civilization into new areas! That's truly a logical and reasonable argument for taking an interest, it seems to me -- but unfortunately, the current economic limitations seem to just blow all such ideas right out of the heads of most folks! Combine this with a kind of innate conservatism, the idea that we've always expanded by appropriating or altering the habitats of pre-existing life *before*, and it seems that we have a kind of vicious, economically reinforced meme circle! The meme circle says that space is too expensive to live in, and you can't really take living things or advanced tech out there to help the situation, since it's never really been done before, you see, and why, that just *proves* it'll always be too expensive! Space boosters who've been too early with optimistic predictions haven't always helped the situation, I suppose, so the meme circle just gets stronger, "it can't be done, at least not at all soon, because it hasn't been done yet".

> Neuroscience, psychology, AI and the
> like are the fields that capture the imaginations of the
> adventurors who want to explore unknown territory. The
> computer and psychaitry industries are already worth
> billions of dollars with tremendous growth prospects.
> Economically I'd rate these areas of enterprise as far more
> viable than space travel, as well as more important. From a
> social welfare perspective, nano and biotech should probably
> be a higher priority than space exploration.

Don't forget that such transhuman tech developments should help a lot, right where it counts most, in making space access more economical. For instance, it's been mentioned often enough that advanced, self replicative nano should allow a very significant improvement in space hardware, the actual stuff that you need to get into space, and live there. As for AI, again, it's almost a truism that this should help with the design end of things. And medical advances -- well one could go on, the exact timing of all this being more than a little uncertain, to say the least.

Given that the timing of advanced tech is so uncertain, I think that the Space Station could be a good investment in the sense of beginning the new frontier just a little "early"? For instance, think of any medical advances toward allowing people to live comfortably in space; shouldn't such developments help in understanding the human condition on Earth? Also,
Greg Burch mentioned refurbishing satellites at the Station. Perhaps some company could make an early beginning toward retrieving *lunar* materials for building or refueling satellites -- the Station ought to be a natural base for that, for the processing or repair work needed in low orbit, I mean, even this is done only as the occasional small experiment, at first. Notice that we're not *necessarily* talking grand trips into deep space here, although a Space Station *could* prove to be a worthwhile launching base for far ranging manned missions, as well. I guess it's just unbelievable to me that a multi-use space research laboratory has been so panned by critics; some kind of beaurocratic budget feuding/budget envy, no doubt.

Now, what to do about the perceived lack of enthusiasm that Chris Fedeli talked about? Maybe if we were to talk about the various kinds of research that will go on at ISS, people would respond to that, for instance, we're going to see a real increase in knowledge from this, especially in space biology. OTOH, maybe what's really being said here is that you just have to have men flying to Mars or the moons of Saturn, or wherever, because actually taking life into space is in itself terminally humdrum?

David Blenkinsop <>